Northwest Airlines finished last in on-time performance among the nation's airlines in September, as stormy weather and the ongoing strike by its mechanics messed up flight operations.
Just 74.8 percent of Northwest flights arrived on time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The average for 20 carriers tracked by the department was 82.7 percent.
Continental Airlines had an on-time mark of 79.5 percent; United, 83.1; American, 81.8. Delta, which has been especially vulnerable to storms in the southeastern U.S., had 82.7 percent of its flights arrive on time.
Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch blamed the carrier's last-place finish largely on bad weather.
In September, hurricanes Katrina and Rita and severe thunderstorms in the upper Midwest disrupted flights to and from Northwest's Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul hub airports, he said.
As far as the mechanics' strike was concerned, Ebenhoch said the airline has been steadily improving its performance since August, when mechanics struck the carrier.
Northwest has hired workers to permanently replace strikers and farmed out much of the work to outside contractors.
"Our on-time performance was at its lowest point in the weeks leading up to the strike, and improved when the strike began,'' Ebenhoch said. "In the months since the start of the strike, our operational performance has continued to improve."
In October, the airline expects to top 80 percent for on-time arrivals, he said.
That's the range Northwest was hitting a year ago. In September 2004, Northwest posted an on-time arrival rate of 85.4 percent, better than the industry average of 83.9 percent.
Terry Trippler, a travel expert with cheapseats.com, said the mechanics' strike is hurting Northwest's flight operations. "But it's safe to say the worst is over," he added.
Northwest would have some "real problems" if its on-time arrival rate stayed in the 70-percent territory, he said.
"I don't see it staying there,'' said Trippler. "This will give the strikers some fuel, though, to stand tall. It doesn't look like Northwest is handling their absence as well as it would like to."
Union spokesman Steve MacFarlane said the on-time stats show Northwest is "not running anywhere near a normal operation."
"Our strike is clearly having an effect on maintenance operations," he said.
He scoffed at Northwest's blaming the weather.
But Northwest seemed to make more attempts to fly through bad weather than other carriers did. About 1.1 percent of its flights were delayed because of extreme weather. Meanwhile, Delta blamed Mother Nature for delaying just 0.06 percent of its flights.
For all carriers, extreme weather delayed 0.55 percent of flights in September.
Northwest canceled 1.3 percent of its flights in September, compared with an industry average of 2 percent. Delta canceled 3.9 percent.
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